Devin Dwyer

Posted by Devin Dwyer on December 10, 2010 in News Clips

American television shows broadcast across the Middle East are proving to be effective "agents of influence" in the ongoing battle over hearts and minds of ordinary Muslims pondering jihad against the United States, a confidential government cable published by Wikileaks reveals.

ABC's "Desperate Housewives" and "World News with Diane Sawyer," as well as CBS' "Late Show with David Letterman" and NBC's sitcom "Friends," all carry more sway with viewers than a U.S. taxpayer-funded Middle East broadcast network, an unnamed Saudi source told U.S. embassy officials last year.

"It's still all about the War of Ideas here, and the American programming on [privately-owned] MBC and Rotana is winning over ordinary Saudis in a way that 'Al Hurra' and other U.S. propaganda never could," the source said.

"Saudis are now very interested in the outside world, and everybody wants to study in the U.S. if they can. They are fascinated by U.S. culture in a way they never were before."

The Saudi government, which exerts tight control over media in the country, has permitted the satellite broadcasts of American programming uncensored with Arabic subtitles over the privately-owned Middle East Broadcasting group (MBC) as a "means of countering the extremists."

"If the Saudis are saying that the popular culture helps young people like America, that it helps people like Americans, that it is a more powerful tool in public diplomacy than any of the stuff coming out of government – it's absolutely true," James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, told ABC News.

"Can we establish a one-to-one tie between that and the fact that somebody doesn't get recruited into extremism? I'm not sure if we can," he said. But "they look up to us as purveyors of a culture they want to associate with."

U.S. officials also wrote...


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